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Foam Rollers: Why Are They in the Gym?

By Kevin Pansky, PT, DPT

I’m sure you’ve seen a foam roller in the gym lately. Just in case you haven’t, a foam roller is simply a cylindrical piece of extruded hard-celled foam, which can vary in densities. There are many different application techniques, which are simple to use.

The use of foam rollers is based on the concept of acupressure in which pressure is placed on specific surfaces of the body. The use of foam rollers has progressed from an acupressure approach to self-massage.

The roller should be used to apply pressure to sensitive areas in muscles-sometimes called trigger points, knots, or areas of increased muscle density. The idea is to allow people to apply pressure to injury-prone areas themselves. The roller is usually used to apply sweeping strokes to the long muscle groups like the calves, adductors, and quadriceps, and small directed force to areas like the TFL, IT Band, hip rotators, and gluteus medius.

The feel of the roller and intensity of the self-massage should be properly geared to the age, comfort, and fitness level of the person using the roller. There is no universal agreement on when to roll, how often to roll, or how long to roll, but generally, techniques are used both before and after a workout. Foam rolling prior to a workout can help decrease muscle density and promote a better warmup. Rolling after a workout may help muscles recover from strenuous exercise.
One of the nice things about using the foam roller is that it can be done on a daily basis.
How long to use the roller is also determined on a case-by-case basis. I usually allow five to 10 minutes for soft tissue work for both pre- and post-workout routines.

Foam rolling is hard work that can even border on being painful. Good massage work, and correspondingly good self-massage work, may be uncomfortable, much like stretching. Therefore, it is important that you learn to distinguish between a moderate level of discomfort related to working a trigger point or tight muscle and a discomfort that can lead to injury.

General Rule of Thumb: When you are done rolling, you should feel better, not worse. And the rollers should never cause bruising.

For continued pain free exercising Foam Rollers can be ordered at or other sporting goods provider(s). If you have further questions or need further instruction please don’t hesitate to contact your Physical Therapy or Exercise Specialist today!!

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